american knees-shawn wong

“Betty’s ex-husband was one of these men. He had known how to pronounce her last name, because he had been in Vietnam. What they were to each other didn’t translate well in America, even though Betty had lived most of her life in America. Larry adored Betty because his army experience in Vietnam had been the best years of his life. His marriage to Betty reclaimed that past. Betty had escaped Vietnam with her family, and she accepted the knowledge that they would never return. If there was no return, then all that was left was to be American. She had no responsibility to the memory of having been Vietnamese in Vietnam. Marrying Larry made her a Vietnamese woman in American instead of an American of Vietnamese ancestry. They lived in Texas. Larry drove a truck for a beer distributor. Betty went to college.

But the longer they were married, the more strongly the past gripped him. Remembering the availability of Vietnamese women to him when he had been in the army, he began to question Betty’s loyalty. He ridiculed her college education, ripped “American” dresses from her body, threw money at her, eventually beat her. Betty began to wonder whether she was meant to live in America.” (169)

all-american stories…



2 thoughts on “american knees-shawn wong

  1. the sum of their hearts:

    “Asian people could tell she was part Asian: perhaps not part Japanese, but something. They knew at first eye contact. This eye contact thing between Asian men and Asian women was where the war began.
    Aurora knew the battle well.” (35)

    “Long-distance phone sex and making love with Aurora in person had turned out to be verbally the same seduction to her. A good lover must be articulate first and skillful and attentive second. She wanted him to think and be coordinated and skillful all at the same time. In Aurora’s bedtime stories Raymond learned to flirt, be romantic, be seductive, and undress her all at once, making love to her in complete sentences and full paragraphs. She wanted to be the center of his fantasy when they were making love, but each time the details had to be different: different clothing, different order in which the clothing comes off, different circumstances, different locations. They were characters in a story that had only a beginning and a middle.” (48)

    “The first few months with Raymond had been like being in a college ethnic studies class, as they compared notes about being Asian in America and being biracial. Raymond spoke of the sixties and seventies and ideas like “self-determination” and “multiculturalism,” which she had only heard in school and never from a lover. In the sixties, Negroes had become blacks, and Raymond had become “Asian American”-without a hyphen. Sometimes he lectured in bed about institutionalized racism.” (53)

    “Aurora felt stupid saying this. She knew that some of the women, closer to Raymond’s age, kissed him in front of her only as a way of holding ground, of putting a stake through her youth and beauty. The women he worked with either had the politically correct talk, were born in Chinatown, went on pilgrimages, or had shared the political memory of the sixties and seventies with Raymond. When Aurora saw them at fundraisers and office functions, they acted like jealous lovers instead of “sisters in the struggle.” She understood their resentment toward her. Raymond’s attraction to her confirmed a stereotype. There weren’t many single men in their late thirties and early forties, and Raymond had done the very predictable thing of finding a younger woman. Raymond saw her as half Asian; they saw her as young and pretty. “So where did you meet Raymond?” seemed to be the only question they wanted to ask her. After a while, Aurora wanted to say that she had met Raymond at her high school when he came to recruit new minority students for the college, then one thing led to another. You know.” (65)

    “At first their parting, their separation, their movement away from each other, was not absolute and final. They accepted each other on ever-changing terms, broke down barriers, reset borders, traveled together, shared unspoken regrets, made agreements, and made love for the last time several times.” (76)

    “Raymond has banana tendencies, but that job of his keeps him from peeling. Or he’s popcorn-you know, yellow yellow yellow yellow until you put him under pressure, then he turns white.” (132)

  2. legacy’s labour’s lost:

    “Brenda’s aunt said the kids got it all wrong in the sixties with their endless search for identity and their self-determination crap. “What is it you kids don’t know? Why do you want to draw attention to yourself? You kids didn’t even know we were in camp until you read about it in your high school textbooks. Then you came home wearing black armbands, wanting to know why we never told you about the camps. You never asked.” (93)

    “Wood picked up his teacup and sipped. ‘I’m happy your mother wasn’t around to see you get divorced. I know things don’t always work out, but in our generation you grit your teeth and bear it.’
    It was one of Helen’s expressions, a slight misstep with American figures of speech. It drowned all Raymond’s will to fight.” (27)

    “Raymond began to acquire his father’s taste in food, food he had never liked before, as if he were occupying not the space beside his father but the same space. Bitter melon, artichokes, pickled pig’s feet, /hom yu/, salted duck eggs. They shared the eyeballs and cheeks of steamed fish, sucked bone marrow, ground gristle and tendons between their teeth. He mimicked his father’s handwriting. They sat and read the newspaper together and listened to news radio. Later, Raymond ordered his first drink in a bar by simply repeating what he had heard his father say. ‘Scotch, rocks.’ The liquor burned his father’s words deeper into his tongue. He ate a crab and mixed the yellow meat inside the body cavity with /ng gah pay/. He lived his life as a series of symbolic gestures.” (30)

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